Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
(1925 - 1994)
by Yael Levine Katz
A wealth of material about Shlomo Carlebach is contained
in the various daily newspapers published in Israel,
as well as in news magazines. Some of these papers, such as Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem
Post, have archives arranged according to subject. The material
from more recent years is searchable either by CD ROM database, in the
case of the Post, or by conducting an online search, in the instance
of Ha'aretz, for both the English and Hebrew editions, the English
edition since September 1997 and the Hebrew from May 1994. A preliminary search of the CD ROM of the Post between
the years 1990-1999 turned up tens of references to Shlomo.
I resolved to check out the information pertaining
to Shlomo in The Jerusalem
Report since its inception in September 1990. There exists a
CD ROM of the first five years, though the first issue, that of September
1, 1990, is, for some reason, not included. This was supplemented with
a database search of all issues until the end of May 2000.
The search results showed that Shlomo was the subject
of several posthumous Report articles or features of differing
lengths. In addition, he was mentioned in various contexts in other
articles, essays and editorials both in his lifetime and following his
Yossi Klein Halevi paid tribute to Shlomo in "The
Pied Piper of Judaism," published
in the issue following his death. He offered general biographical details
concerning Shlomo's life, and stressed his quality of ahavat Yisrael.
He noted that Shlomo "sang wherever there were Jews, from American
prisons to Indian ashrams," and concluded, "He taught an orphaned
generation numbed by the Holocaust and assimilation how to return to joy."1
Shlomo's double-cassette album Sweetest Friends and The Gift of Shabbos, recorded not long before his death,
was favorably reviewed by Yossi Klein Halevi. Sweetest Friends "contains many new songs, among them some of his finest work, and
reminds one why Carlebach had no peers - and no successors." Of
the two cassettes, The Gift of Shabbos was, in Klein's opinion,
the more successful. On this cassette, Shlomo articulated that his deepest
prayer was "that we fill the world with a new song." He concluded
by asserting that this "album proves that no one in our generation
did more than Shlomo Carlebach to reinvigorate Jewish
music and sing that new song."2
Miriam Shaviv chronicled the dissemination of the
Carlebach influence following his death in 1994, pointing out that "his
following has skyrocketed to levels possibly equaling the height of
his popularity, in the 50s and 60s." Friday night Carlebach-style
prayer services were cropping up in the United States and in Israel,
and books about Carlebach were being published.3 Shaviv also told of the legal dispute over his legacy, and the claims
on the part of Neshama and Neila Carlebach for the rights to Shlomo's
music and teachings.4
The fact that various synagogues have incorporated
some of Shlomo's songs into their liturgy was noted in several additional
In a cover story feature, the plight of Jewish singles
was recorded and some of the existing social outlets were delineated,
amongst them the Friday night services at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun,
a haven for singles. "The program consists of almost no formal
praying, just beautifully sung Shabbat hymns. The female cantor, with a warm vibrant voice and a tallit over
her shoulders, holds her hands aloft à la Tevye the Milkman;
her accompanyist is at the keyboard of an electric piano; the tunes
are vintage Shlomo Carlebach." The writer went on to parenthetically
state that Carlebach had his own synagogue not far away, which "has
its own lively Jewish singles scene. "5
In October 1998 the Saatchi Synagogue opened in London in honor of Nathan and Daisy Saatchi, who emigrated from Iraq in the
1950's. The shul conducted traditional services, though it was not affiliated
with the Orthodox United Synagogue, and drew many singles. The writer
outlined its style of prayer. "Services don't run for more than
two hours; siddurs have English transliteration; and there's lots of
singing and dancing, Shlomo Carlebach style." While this type of
Orthodox congregation may be found both in Israel and in the United
States, "it is an innovation in far more staid Britain."6
In an article on Orthodox Jewish music performers,
the lion's share of which was devoted to Avraham Fried, Calev Ben-David
stated that "Jewish spiritual music does indeed draw some fans
among non-Orthodox-Jews," citing the case of Shlomo Carlebach whose
hits appealed to the general Jewish audience as well. Avraham Fried,
he said, dreamt of the day when his music would be accepted among non-Jews
as well, who would then be hearing values about peace, love and redemption
directly "from the source."7
An article on Reva L'Sheva made note of Shlomo's crucial
impact on the band. The group's music was, as depicted, fused with blues,
country and "Carlebach's Jewish spirituals, influenced by the Grateful
Dead and set to an Afro-ethnic beat." The band, as portrayed in
the article, viewed themselves as aiming to foster and perpetuate Shlomo's
message of "love, peace and connection to God"
and his mission of "'bringing people together, creating a sense
of friendship and happiness.'" "Carlebach's ecumenicism"
was also "reflected in the makeup of the band. Three of four vocalists
are American immigrants, but they sing their original lyrics in Hebrew
to a predominantly sabra audience. Three are religious Jews, but the
Israeli-born...is secular." It was Yehudah Katz who produced Shlomo's
last recording. It was also stated that Katz accompanied Shlomo in 1989
on his 21-day tour of Russia. The opening section of the article related
that Reva L'Sheva once played Shlomo's "Song for Peace" in
a concert that took place in the old Jewish Quarter in East Berlin on Jerusalem Day.8
Ben-David's article "The Psalm Remains the Same"
was concerned with the Book
of Psalms as the greatest lyrical inspiration of all time, coinciding
with a concert celebrating music set to the Psalms, staged as part of
the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations in the Sultan's Pool amphitheater in
1996. "For over 2,500 years, these sacred lyrics have been continuously
sung throughout the world in synagogues, churches or concert halls,
and have inspired composers as diverse as Gregorian monks, Johann Sebastian
Bach, Igor Stravinsky and the 'Singing Rabbi' Shlomo Carlebach."9
In a cover story on the religious revival in Israel
it was reported that the renewed interest in Judaism is evident even
in the "Ashkenazi yuppiedom." It was recounted, among other
things, that Rabbi David Zeller, "ordained by the late mystical
rabbi Shlomo Carlebach," had been approached by a group of transcendental
meditators from Kfar
Saba, who sought to be introduced to "Judaism's 'soulful, meditative
side. We started by singing Shlomo's songs and then I related the Rhyziner
Rebbe's meditation on the phrase ki kadosh ani...If one really imbibes
that simple sentiment deeply, feels oneself to be truly holy, one might
behave differently during the course of the day.'"10
Sara M. Averick compiled the different options for
celebrating the seder in 1991, provided by the Report's correspondents
in various locations. Among the possibilities for taking part in a seder
in New York, the seders conducted by "Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on
the first two nights" were mentioned. Participants were cautioned
to "snack before they attend the Carlebach seders; the singing
rabbi is known to expend much energy and time rendering the Haggadah
before he gets to the food."11 In
a survey of Zev Brenner's radio station in 1994, the reviewer stated
that its programs included "a weekly performance by 'singing rabbi'
Shlomo was referred to in several essays and editorials
written by Stuart Schoffman. In the first issue of the Report,
he conjured up images of possible future stories. One of these, in the
realm of Jewish music, might be about "Bob
Dylan and Shlomo Carlebach and Johnny Cash" doing "an
His article "Learning the Music" on soul
music was published shortly after the shloshim of Shlomo. He reviewed
in concise the evening that marked Shlomo's shloshim in Heikhal Shlomo.
He also related that the obituary in the Yediot Aharonot daily
revealed that the late Dan Ben-Amotz, "epitome of the anti-Diaspora,
pagan Israeli," used to attend Shlomo's performances. Schoffman
acknowledged that he himself as a "guitar-twiddling teenager,"14 had idolized Shlomo.
Schoffman recounted the trials and tribulations of
the bone-marrow transplant he underwent in Berkeley, which was the only
cure for myelofysplasia, a disease of the bone marrow with which he
was detected, and the concern on the part of various individuals for
his well-being, which was so very meaningful to him. Rabbis e-mailed
him requesting his Hebrew name in order to pray on his behalf. "A
Chabad rabbi from Contra Costa County dropped by with a hallah, and
we spent half an hour singing Shlomo Carlebach tunes together."15
In yet an additional essay he wrote that in his quest
for authentic Sephardi culture, he went with his 7-year-old son to observe
the Mimounah celebrations at Sacher Park in Jerusalem where, among other things, entertainer Avi Ofek was "crooning
ear-piercing Oriental favorites (and a Carlebach tune or two)."16 In an article on the ultra-Orthodox he told of his own personal connections
with such persons, noting that a cousin of his was a "legendary
Lubavitcher...Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav's fables, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's
indispensable Hebrew translation of the Talmud, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's
immortal melodies -- all these are so much a part of my life, of the
cultural trove of contemporary Jewry, that to think of ultra-Orthodoxy
as alien or menacing is both strange and sad."17
Micha Odenheimer quoted from Shlomo's teachings in
two Divrei Torah that appeared in "The People and the Book."
In a Dvar Torah on the portion of Nitzavim, he referred to an interpretation
by Shlomo of the notion of worshiping strange gods, which signified
"falling apart, the...flip-side of continuity."
The late great hasidic teacher and songwriter, Rabbi
Shlomo Carlebach, explained it as follows: "The closer you are
to a person, the more you believe he cares about everything you do.
If you bump into someone whom you are not close to, whom you haven't
seen for six months, and he asks you 'What's new?,' you might not have
anything to tell him. The closer you are, the more there is to tell.
A really close friend even wants to hear what you ate for breakfast.
A strange god is one who you don't believe cares about who you are and
what you do -- he's a stranger to you. The more you believe God cares
about your every movement, the less you are worshiping a strange god."18
He pondered the power of spiritual charisma in "The
Charisma of the Good," bringing down in the name of his "teacher
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach" the idea that "the reason Isaac had
intended to bless Esau, rather than Jacob...was that Esau was a more
exciting, charismatic figure than Jacob and thus better able to reach
more people and change the world with the Abrahamic message."19
Shlomo Carlebach ranked eighty-eight in the Report's Readers Poll of the one-hundred Greatest Jews of the Millenium, and
was defined as "Hasidic Minstrel."20
Sources: 1. Yossi Klein Halevi, "The Pied
Piper of Judaism," The Jerusalem Report, November 17, 1994, p.
2. Yossi Klein Halevi, "Artbeat,"
The Jerusalem Report, October 5, 1995, p. 59.
3. Miriam Shaviv, "Bringing Back
That Loving Feeling," The Jerusalem Report, October 2, 1997, pp.
4. Miriam Shaviv, "Battling over
the Legacy," The Jerusalem Report, October 2, 1997, p. 51.
5. Netty C. Gross, "Sick of Being
Single," The Jerusalem Report, October 30, 1997, pp. 32-35.
6. Lucy Manning, "Pitching Prayer,"
The Jerusalem Report, November 9, 1998, p. 28.
7. Calev Ben-David, "Music with
a Soul," The Jerusalem Report, February 23, 1995, pp. 42-43.
8. Tamar Wisemon, "Songs for
Peace," The Jerusalem Report, January 31, 2000, pp. 46-47.
9. Calev Ben-David, "The Psalm
Remains the Same," The Jerusalem Report, August 8, 1996, pp. 46-47.
10. Yossi Klein Halevi and Netty
C. Gross, "'Something is Stirring,'" The Jerusalem Report,
July 11, 1996, pp. 16-17.
11. Winston Pickett, "Different
Strokes, The Fifth Question," The Jerusalem Report, March 28, 1991,
pp. 32-33, compiled by Sara M. Averick.
12. J. J. Goldberg, "Radio Schmooze,"
The Jerusalem Report, January 27, 1994, p. 34.
13. Stuart Schoffman, "An Interview
with Myself," The Jerusalem Report, September 1, 1990, p. 14.
14. Stuart Schoffman, "Learning
the Music," The Jerusalem Report, January 12, 1995, p. 42.
15. Stuart Schoffman, "Rafaela
Revisited," The Jerusalem Report, September 19, 1996, p. 62.
16. Stuart Schoffman, "Bulldozers
and Barbecue," The Jerusalem Report, May 29, 1997, p. 48.
17. Stuart Schoffman, "The Ankles
of King David," The Jerusalem Report, January 4, 1999, p. 50.
18. Micha Odenheimer, "Jewish
Intimacy," The Jerusalem Report, September 13, 1999, p. 45.
19. Micha Odenheimer, "The Charisma
of the Good," The Jerusalem Report, December 6, 1999, p. 41.
20. "Readers Poll! The 100 Greatest
Jews of the Millennium," The Jerusalem Report, January 3, 2000,
pp. 52-53, compiled by Karen Yourish.